November 21, 2020 is International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day. It is a national suicide awareness day designated by U.S. Congress and dedicated to bringing healing and support for friends and family of those who have died by suicide and for supporting the survivors of these tragic events. As grief and trauma associated with the self-inflicted loss of a loved one can be especially difficult, it is important that we understand the reasons and stigma associated with suicide. Let’s shed some light on the sometimes-uncomfortable issue related to the not-too-often discussed epidemic of suicide and its impact on survivors.
Statistical Facts on Suicide
Here are a few facts about suicide. Someone in the U.S. dies by suicide about every 11 minutes, every day. That means that before you finish reading this blog another suicide has occurred. That’s over 47,000 Americans per year.
Do you know someone who has been a victim of suicide? Odds are good that you do. About 50% of people in the U.S. say they personally know someone who died of suicide – a parent, sibling, relative, friend, or co-worker. Twice as many Americans die by suicide than homicide; four times more than those killed by impaired drivers.
About every 11 minutes someone in the U.S. dies of suicide.
The rate of deaths from suicide has jumped dramatically in this century, rising from about 10.5 deaths per 100,000 in 1999 to 14 per 100,000 today. The suicide rate is even higher among some occupations. Law enforcement, physicians (on average, one doctor a day kills him or herself), farmers, college students, and professional drivers are especially at risk. It’s the 10th leading cause of death overall and the second leading cause of death among young people.
Studying responses to the coronavirus pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently found that one in four young people had contemplated suicide this past summer. Maybe that is not surprising given the disruption of access to normal stress relievers and supports. Add to that the fact that pandemic related social factors like personal isolation, loneliness, financial distress, and poor economic conditions in many sectors of the economy are all associated with suicidal behaviors.
Women attempt suicide three times more frequently than men. But men are over three times more likely to have a fatal outcome from an attempt than are women. This is because men are more likely to use more lethal means. Firearms accounted for about half of all deaths by suicide each year. Most who die by suicide were experiencing an untreated or poorly managed depressive condition.
Warning Signs of Suicide
Warning signs of suicide include talking about wanting to die or being better off dead, talking about feelings of hopelessness, being a burden to others, giving away possessions, or having unbearable emotional or physical pain. Dramatic mood swings or increased use of alcohol or other mood-altering drugs can also be warning signs.
Suicide Awareness in the Workplace
Suicide is too often dismissed as not being a business issue, so too many employers take little interest or responsibility for awareness and prevention. This attitude seems unfortunate and misguided to us. That’s because we regularly see how suicide disrupts the workplace. Our organization provides hundreds of trauma and grief debriefings every year for workplaces affected by a suicide. We meet with dozens of shaken managers who question what they might have done differently. After a suicide of an employee, organizational productivity is severely impacted. The disruption to operations is real, sometimes long lasting, and often unpredictable. Employees and managers frequently wrestle for weeks and months with anguish and guilt from not recognizing warning signs or feeling they should have done more. Suicide of a co-worker can be especially impactful to those who are experiencing mental health conditions themselves, are in recovery form substance misuse or who have had a suicide in their families.
Promoting Suicide Awareness Among Veterans
According to the Veteran’s Administration, an alarming 22 military veterans commit suicide every day. One way that our company has promoted suicide awareness among veterans is through the initiation of the 22×22 Challenge, a program associated with Fit to Pass, a customized health coaching program designed to improve the health of professional drivers. The 22×22 Challenge involves pressing out 22 push-ups per day on any 22 days during the month of November 2020 in order to raise awareness and promote the prevention of veteran suicides. Please check out the challenge at https://fittopass.com/22×22/.
Avenues For Employers To Engage Their Workforce
We ask that leaders of work organizations join us in creating more suicide awareness this month among their workforce and in their communities. Communication about this issue helps de-stigmatize it and other behavioral health conditions. Ask your employees to support and encourage their participation in local awareness events and activities. Employers can join the growing number of organizations that have adopted awareness and screening programs for their employees. These services confidentially and anonymously screen for suicidal risk and offer employees an alternative channel to get help. Employers can also provide basic mental health information or “first aid” to educate employees on recognizing severe depression or suicidal speech and behaviors and learn simple ways to encourage others to get assistance. Doing so normalizes conversations about behavioral health in general and reduces the barrier of social stigma.
We hope you will want to learn more. We are proud to partner with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in offering services and creating awareness. Please visit their website to learn more. If you are concerned about a possibly suicidal person, call or encourage them to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-272-TALK (8255). Visit with your Employee or Student Assistance Program today to learn more about how they can support your organization in creating awareness and increasing access to supportive services.
About the Authors
Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, NCAC II is the Chief Clinical Officer at Espyr. For over 30 years, Norman has practiced in mental health, substance misuse, and EAP settings. He has also worked in leadership positions in both public and private sector behavioral health organizations. An author of four books, he is frequently called on for presentations and as a panelist to share his expertise and experience as a mental health professional.
Yeji Jang, MSW Intern, is a graduate intern at Espyr, working in the Network and Provider Relations Department and with Espyr’s Chief Clinical Officer. A graduate of the University of Georgia with a B.S. in Psychology, and having worked with immigrant populations, she is currently finishing her last semester at Indiana University’s Graduate School of Social Work. After graduation, Yeji will pursue the goal of becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), and then wants to practice clinical social work in a behavioral health setting.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, June 24–30, 2020
Peterson C, Sussell A, Li J, Schumacher PK, Yeoman K, Stone DM. Suicide Rates by Industry and Occupation — National Violent Death Reporting System, 32 States, 2016. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020; 69:57–62. DOI: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6903a1.htm?s_cid=mm6903a1_w
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For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental and behavioral health solutions to help organizations improve productivity, lower turnover and absenteeism, and reduce healthcare expenses. Espyr’s portfolio of customized counseling, coaching and consulting solutions help people and organizations achieve their full potential by providing mental health support and driving positive behavioral change. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.